Platte River State Park is one of the closest state parks to the Omaha and Lincoln metro areas. There is an abundance of fun things to do with kids, especially during the summer.
Yet, I think it gets overlooked for flashier, newer parks. But, with the addition of glamping, I think this park is going to become very popular soon.
This post was first written in 2017 and updated in 2020 to include park updates and pricing.
COVID-19 UPDATE: Platte River State Park is open for day use, fishing, and recreation. Game and Parks will continue to keep open state park and recreation areas grounds and trails. Playgrounds, activity centers, are not open. Overnight camping and staying in cabins are prohibited through Friday, May 8, with a possible extension. All events are canceled through May 31.
Here’s are seven reasons why you should plan a visit the park. Bringing kids along? Don’t miss this guide to taking kids to Platte River State Park.
Horseback trail rides at Platte River
Your family can ride horses at Platte River State Park. The cutoff age is one year younger than Mahoney’s (age 6). They do a great job matching your ability to the right horse.
Costs: $25 per person, no double riders
The route takes you past a creek, over a bridge and through some inclines in the forest. In all, you’re on your horse for about an hour.
Platte River State Park hiking trails
I’m guilty of thinking of another state park near Platte River for day trips first (ahem, Mahoney), but when I want to immerse myself and kids in nature, few places nearby can top Platte River State Park.
The trails at Mahoney have nothing on Platte River. First off, there’s a waterfall that’s incredibly quick and easy to get to at Platte River State Park.
For those looking for more of a challenge, Platte River State Park’s terrain will satisfy you.
It’s still the Midwest, so you know, it’s not mountainous, but it’ll do.
If you’re not about to hike, you can at least take the short walk to the teepee located near the lookout tower.
Spray & Splash Park
One of the park’s newest addition is the Spray & Splash Park, an inexpensive way to cool off in the summer. The park has three small waterslides to get from one level to the other, as well as several sprayers and buckets that dump water on kids.
You can easily spend two hours at the splash pad, especially if you pack snacks or lunch.
It’s open daily (seasonally) from noon to 6 p.m.
Cost: Admission is $3 for children and adults, with kids ages 2 and younger being admitted for FREE.
Naturalist programs for kids
This is the first summer we’ve really taken advantage of the programming offered at a state park, perhaps because all of our stays in the past have been off-season. At least through June 30, there are daily activities for kids.
Some teach fishing; others might instruct them on creek ecology. There’s a small nature center with aquariums of native Nebraska species. One naturalist program let kids get up close to some of them to learn more about their characteristics.
Tip: If you stay over Memorial Day Weekend, you may even find a special event on that Friday night. When we were there, the kids got to learn some archery, try out an air rifle, and learn about Dutch oven cooking.
Movie screenings at the park
Saturday nights through the summer, you can go to the park’s little amphitheater to watch a family-friendly movie for free. We brought snacks and drinks, and since it was early summer still, a blanket.
There is bench seating, so you don’t have to bring a chair.
Things to do at the Platte River State Park lake
The lake at Platte River State Park is a lovely one surrounded by tall trees. There’s a marina where you can get a variety of food and cold treats, as well as rent a paddle boat for a half-hour.
Cost: $10 per half-hour to paddle boat.
You can also rent fishing gear at the marina. It’s a catch-and-release lake.
Tip: You can check out fishing poles for your kids for free (bait is extra).
Near the lake you’ll find Crawdad Creek. It’s a new addition to the park, and the kids loved it. It features three ponds with little waterfalls flowing from one to the next.
There’s a naturalist program at the creek, during which a guide helps kids look for tadpoles and other critters and bugs. Naturalist programs are free!
Cheaper Cabins at Platte River
Having stayed about both Mahoney and Platte River state parks, I can affirm Platte River has cheaper options, including teepees if you’re so inclined. The options are cheaper because Platte River State Park has things like camper cabins, which has some amenities of a typical cabin (A/C, refrigerator, beds) but not all of them (no water or bathroom).
Having spent a few nights in a camper cabin, I’m cool with spending a few more bucks to have a bathroom next time.
Prices for cabins in 2019:
There are two categories of cabins at Platte River State Park, the Camper Cabins and Modern Cabins. Camper Cabins share a central shower and bathroom facility. Modern Cabins have bathrooms.
Whitetail: One open room, Sleeps 4 – $45
Goldenrod: Sleeps 6 – $60
Strawberry and Red Cedar: 2-bedroom, Sleeps 6 – $70
Wild Turkey: 3-bedrooms, Sleeps 6 – $80
Glamping Cabins: One bedroom, Sleeps 2 – $185
Meadowlark: 1-bedroom, Sleeps 2, $85
Owen Standard Cabins: 2-bedrooms, Sleeps 6 – $110
Owen Deluxe Cabins: 2-bedrooms, Sleeps 6 – $120
Blue Heron: 2-bedroom, Sleeps 4 – $105
Chokecherry Duplex: 2-bedrooms, Sleeps 6 on each side – $105/unit
Cottonwood, Evergreen and Golden Eagle: 3 & 4-bedrooms, Sleeps 8, $115
$20/night and sleep between 6 to 8 people.
Fun places near Platte River State Park
The great thing about Platte River State Park is that it’s near places like Mahoney State Park, so you can stay (cheaply) at Platte River, and then take the 10-minute drive to the other park to enjoy what’s there as well.
I’d recommend heading to Mahoney to the aquatic center, which is much larger than Platte River’s little pool, plus it has water slides and a kids area. If it’s a rainy day, nothing beats letting the kids run wild in the indoor play area at Mahoney, too.
Other nearby state parks include Louisville State Recreation Area, which has an inflatable water obstacle course. It’s great for kids who can swim.
Schramm Park is also nearby and recently opened a new interactive exploration center. You can read details about these new updates in this post.
If you go
Platte River State Park
Where: 14421 346th St., Louisville, Neb.
Cost: Nebraska Park permit is required to enter. For residents of Nebraska, it’s $30 annually or $6 daily. For non-residents, it’s $45 annually or $8 daily.
Visiting in the off-season? Read this post on what to do at Platte River State Park in the winter.
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